Sunday, June 12, 2005

eHarmony method?

My former flatmate worked for eHarmony for six months.

They're based here in Pasadena, CA, not too far from where I am now.

Here's what I can tell you about their matching system...
(This info is direct from their employee training material, which he kept):

- Christians are only to be matched with Christians, regardless if match percentage with another religion is higher.

- Atheists or agnostics are generally informed that they "have no matches"

- Sexual preferences other than "straight" are told that they have no matches.

eHarmony is a fundamentalist christian-run company. A fair portion of the staff is made up of members of the WorldWide Church of God (an apocalyptic cult, which has often voiced views of intolerance towards atheists, muslims, jews and homosexuals) which I attended with my parents as a child.

If you're anything but a fundamentalist christian, I can't in good conscience recommend to you.

Oh, yeah, and another thing about them;

One of the questions during the interview is:

"What is your position on same-sex matching?"

Answering anything other than "I am against it" will not get you hired. There is currently a class-action lawsuit in progress by two people I know, who were posed this question in the interview. One responded that they had no problem with it. She was dismissed immediately. The second one said "I have no position on it." and was hired. He was fired within two weeks for pairing two eHarmony customers of the same sex.

Oh, and their matching system isn't really done by computer; It's done by the customer service reps that sit there and sort through the applications, and select from a list of existing customers to match new customers with.

High definition reveals more flaws on TV


June 12, 2005

Not Ready for Their Close-Up

Cap Lesesne, a New York plastic surgeon, hears from a lot of women worried about aging. Late last year, he says, he had one visitor, a female newscaster, whose inquiries puzzled him. She was only in her 30's, he says, and still looked terrific. (Lesesne, citing doctor-patient confidentiality, wouldn't identify the woman.) When he asked her why she wanted surgery, she explained that her show was about to begin broadcasting in ''high-definition,'' the hot new digital technology that makes TV images look as crisp and sharp as IMAX films. On normal TV, she said, you can't see her few tiny wrinkles; in high-def, they stand out like folds of origami. ''When she walked in here,'' Lesesne says, '' 'high-def' was the first thing that came out of her mouth.''

Celebrities are considered attractive at least in part because they're suited to the technology of the age. The transition from silent movies to talkies destroyed many actors' careers, as did the shift from black-and-white to color. While almost all prime-time TV on the major broadcast networks is shot in high-def, there are only 18 million of the pricey, wide-screen sets in use. But that number is expected to more than triple by next year, and the new scrutiny that comes with high-def is already making some on-camera talent nervous. ''There are a lot of people who are going to be affected by this,'' says Deborah Paulmann, a makeup artist for ''Late Night with Conan O'Brien.''

To understand why high-def is so unforgiving, consider the numbers. Today's new top-of-the-line HD televisions can display two million pixels, nearly 10 times the resolution of a regular, old-style TV set. Also, the screens are the size of a tabletop. Watching a show in high definition is thus rather like being Gulliver in the land of Brobdingnag -- where every pore on the giants' faces looms like a shell-blasted crater. Many new HDTV owners have tuned in to high-definition celebrity events, only to discover that their favorite stars suddenly look downright haggard.

''I'm seeing people in a whole new way,'' says Phillip Swann, president of OnHD.TV, an online magazine. ''If somebody's aging or if they've got any old acne damage, it just jumps out at you. They've got no chance.'' The editors of OnHD.TV examined several dozen stars and compiled a list of heartthrobs who (they claim) wither under the unblinking gaze of high-def, including Cameron Diaz (''littered with unfortunate pockmarks''), Jewel (whose makeup ''looks like it was done by Ringling Brothers'') and Bill Maher (''scary''). I've seen the effect myself: when I recently watched a high-def close-up of Bradley Whitford -- a handsome star of ''The West Wing'' -- a normally insignificant mark on his forehead suddenly stood out like a third eye. I couldn't stop staring.

The high-def format's merciless gaze isn't solely a matter of screen resolution. Color is a factor, too. For years, government standards have limited the range of colors available to broadcasters, based on the technological limits of the time. With high-def, more colors can be used, including some formerly forbidden shades of red -- which means that blotches, zits and tiny nose-veins can be presented with the brutal clarity of a surgery textbook.

''It's almost too realistic, too digital and computery,'' complains Alexis Vogel, a veteran celebrity makeup artist who recently worked on ''Stacked,'' a high-def show starring Pamela Anderson. ''We'd all like to go back to the old days.'' Makeup artists are now engaged in an arms race with the new medium. But they face a paradox: while makeup is more necessary than ever, its artifice is more obvious. You can't slather on powder when every grain looks like a boulder on your client's face. And interestingly, many cosmeticians predict that high-def could actually reduce the amount of plastic surgery in Hollywood, because the tiny seams look Frankensteinian at such high resolution. High-def is, in essence, a medium peculiarly unsuited to dissembling. ''It's harder to change people from their natural form,'' Vogel adds.

This will probably put an ever-higher premium on genuinely natural beauty -- those lucky few people who require virtually no touch-up. Indeed, high-def fans say that some stars look better in the new medium: Anna Kournikova, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones glow like supernovas, and, Vogel says, ''in high-def, Halle Berry's skin is so beautiful and flawless, she's almost a genetic freak.''

Clive Thompson is a contributing writer for the magazine.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Buster Olney on Mike Piazza


Went to Shea Stadium on Tuesday night and spent the first few innings astonished by the play of Mike Piazza.

Some day, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot; he's got my vote. Sometime later this year, or maybe early next year, he'll hammer his 400th home run. The Mets probably wouldn't have made the playoffs in 1999 without him, or reached The Subway Series in 2000, for that matter. His legacy is secure.

And, in 2005, there may not be a player who has less life in his actions – in how he moves, in the energy he projects – than the Mets' catcher.

He walks everywhere. After drawing a base on balls in his second at-bat, he walked to first base, and when Cliff Floyd hit an inning-ending chopper toward second baseman Craig Counsell, Piazza barely jogged to second – and then slowed to a walk and then stopped, as Counsell threw to first. Had Counsell juggled the ball and botched the play at first, he could have thrown to second for a force play.

Piazza walks out to his position; he walks back to the dugout. Not in a steady amble, either; it's a slow my-knees-are-killing-me or oh-man-do-I-have-to-catch-another-inning stroll. Some hitters stride purposefully toward the plate as they are announced, like they can't wait to hit. On Tuesday night, it was as if Piazza dragged his bat to the batter's box.

Watch Boston's Jason Varitek catch, and you will see how much he works at deceiving the hitters on pitch location, shifting at the last second, moving his glove, as the target, from the inside corner to the outside corner just as the pitcher starts his delivery. He bounces back and forth, and even if he weren't fully engaged – he is, by the way – the pitcher would think he is, simply by his actions and body language.

During the last decade, the Yankees' Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada would be in full sprint up the first base line on ground balls, bouncing in full gear up the line behind the base runners, just in case the throw to first got away. Gregg Zaun of the Toronto Blue Jays might be the most active catcher in the game, doing everything at full speed.

Piazza is at the opposite end of the movement spectrum. Whether there are runners on base or not, he will give the signal for the hitter and then shift his body once to set his target. And stay there. For one second. Two. Three seconds. Sometimes more. If there are no runners on base and the hitter has any kind of peripheral vision, he would have every opportunity to see where Piazza is setting up.

And if there are runners on base – particularly a runner at second – they are afforded eons to signal the pitch location to the hitter. Piazza shifts his body over the outside corner, lifts his glove, and never moves, for what must seem like an eternity to the baserunners; they've got enough time to place a cell phone call to hitters.

You wonder if the stiffness in his movement affects the rest of his play. Early in Tuesday's game, there was a chopper in front of home plate, and Piazza moved after the ball, lurching a bit, and he seemed totally off-balance as he grabbed the ball; in that instant, he was required to go from a statue behind the plate to full-speed, and he bounced the ball to second base, for an error.

Most of the best-throwing catchers don't necessarily have the best pure arm, but the best feet; they move quickly, setting themselves and putting their bodies quickly in the best possible position to unload the ball. Watch Ivan Rodriguez do this, or the Astros' Brad Ausmus. Piazza is really struggling throwing – he's cut down only 10.9 percent of base stealers, the lowest mark in his career – and you wonder if that has more to do with his feet than with his arm. It can't help that he never actually practices throwing during games anywhere close to full speed; at the end of the pitcher's warm-ups, he just kind of tosses the ball to second, rather than going at 85 percent, just to prepare himself.

It's probably the wear and tear of catching for almost two decades; Piazza is 36 and playing baseball's most brutal position. Maybe years of playing amid stardom and expectations in New York have worn him out. He just doesn't look like he's having any fun whatsoever.

Maybe he deserves a pass. Maybe he doesn't. The Mets are trying to win and change the direction of the franchise, and Piazza's body language and energy could not be worse. It would be interesting to hear from readers as to what standard they hold stars to late in their careers.

Piazza's been a great player for a long time. No matter the case, he's finishing his time with the Mets in slow motion.